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A whole slew of new comprehensible novels!!!

There are lots of new CI novels being published by independent authors, which is very exciting for those of us with classroom libraries. Here is one of the key secrets to reading in the classroom: kids may be fickle readers, but there is a “home run” book for every reader. The bigger the diversity of comprehensible texts, the more likely you will be able to match a student with a book that tickles their fancy. Only a few years ago CI teachers were on a quest to find the perfect book that pleases everyone in class, but now the focus has shifted to matching students with the book that will ignite a passion for reading in their second language. For Spanish teachers, this is more and more possible… in level 1! Let’s take a look at some of the new books out there:

Pancho y las momias by Rachel Emery. When Pancho and a new friend sneak into the Guanajuato Mummy Museum at night, unexpected events send them on an adventure around the city. Yes, there are hilarious scenes of mummies waking up and causing havoc in Guanajuato, but there is also something about this book that just feels authentic. Details like the illustration of the man selling tamales and atole set the scene perfectly. The author has captured an aspect of Guanajuato that clearly could only come from real life. I also like that the chapters are very short. It is a novel written in comprehensible Spanish for late beginner/early intermediate Spanish students. Both present and past tense versions of the story are included.

Los tres amigos by Jennifer Degenhardt. It is about time that LGBTQ students can finally find a CI novel that is not implicitly heteronormative! As if teenage friendships aren’t hard enough… Marissa and Jack have been best friends for as long as they can remember, only having troubles when Jack wasn’t always honest about himself. Despite their differences, their friendship endures. However, that friendship is challenged when a new student, Julio, moves to town and upsets the longstanding dynamic between Marissa and Jack. In this level 2+ book, which includes aspects of Puerto Rican culture, readers learn useful vocabulary and are introduced to a progression of verb tenses through the easily understandable plot — understandable even if the emotions of the teenagers are not.

El Jersey by Jennifer Degenhardt. Matías is a typical 7-year-old boy. He is huge fan of the professional soccer teams in Europe, especially the teams in the Spanish league, La Liga. When Matías is not playing soccer, he is watching soccer videos on the iPad. He always looks the part, too, as he can mostly be found wearing uniforms of players on his favorite team, FC Barcelona. He focus on the ball continues as when he travels to Guatemala with his family on an annual trip where he meets Brayan. Brayan is a 6-year-old Guatemalan boy who also loves soccer. Like Matías he plays every chance he gets. Also like Matías, Brayan idolizes his favorite player on the Barça team, Lionel Messi, #10. He wants nothing more than to wear a jersey with the famous forward’s name and number, but those are difficult to find where he lives on Lake Atitlán. In this level 1 book, readers will learn about the culture of Guatemala and how a soccer jersey further connects two soccer-obsessed boys from two different countries. This is a level 1 reader for anyone ages 10-100. The author allowed me to post a preview so that you can evaluate how easy this book will be for your students, click here to download the preview.

El viaje difícil by Jennifer Degenhardt. A story of the times. Juan and his family live in small town in the department of Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Their life, which is simple and good, becomes challenging when their earnings become insufficient to maintain the family. Concerned for the welfare of his family whom he loves, Juan makes the difficult decision to make his way to the United States in search of work opportunities. Based on a story told to the author, this book recounts Juan’s journey north as well as examines the effect of his absence on the family he leaves behind. Readers learn facets of Guatemalan culture through entry level vocabulary and grammar.

Casi me mata el celular by A.C. Quintero. Spanish Level 2/3 Easy Reader. Federico, Damián, and Rubén are your typical teens. They play sports, skateboard, and watch pranks on Youtube; they’ve even mastered filming some of their own pranks at their favorite hangout: la librería. This abandoned bookstore is far away from the adult supervision that seeks to threaten their fun. However, the night of Friday the 13th, their joke goes sour when they stumble upon an uncanny situation. In an effort to satisfy their curiosity, they witness something that will change their lives forever. Now they have to make it out of the sticky situation, alive. “Casi me mata el celular” will take students on a thrilling ride and compel them to contemplate the consequences on the other side of the “Record” button.

La clase de confesiones by A.C. Quintero. Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens and Carlos is stunned. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in his life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand. Carlos invites you to come along on this adventure into La clase de confesiones where…”todos tienen una confesión,” even the teacher!

La bella mentira by A.C. Quintero Carlos is having a bad day, and it’s about to get worse. He leaves Spanish class utterly embarrassed. He had no idea that the teacher was going to partner him up with Jessica, the girl he actually writes about in his class essay. Adding insult to injury, the teacher reads his essay in front of the class, even the mean-spirited things he wrote about his teacher. After running into a few more problems in math class (and his crazy math teacher!), he is faced with the big showdown in the lunchroom. Now, Carlos is between *”la espada y la pared.” He has to make serious decisions. However, a short story in Spanish class may hold the key to all of his problems, and may ultimately lead to his biggest confession of all. Find out in the second installment of the series.

La novia perfecta by Bryan Kandel. This 5,000 word Spanish novel uses simple language to tell the compelling tale of a man who tries his luck at internet dating and ends up on the adventure of his life. The text can be understood by students in level 2 Spanish classes, and the compelling story will engage readers at any level.


If you write a CI novel, please drop me a line so that I can check it out. This blog is read by between 500 to 1000 CI teachers every day, and I am pleased to share your work with the CI community. There has never been a better time to develop an independent reading program in your world language classroom.

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Workshop series – Spring 2018

Beat the second semester blues with a PD injection. Workshops in Los Angeles, Portland Oregon, Raleigh, Vermont and Japan.

Los Angeles – January, Monday 29th & Tuesday 30th. CALP techniques workshop by Tina Hargaden. Mike Peto will lead a collaborative group to process this workshop through the eyes of teachers of heritage learners of Spanish. Before leaving this workshop we will have examined the techniques that Tina presents with the intention of using them in class and reporting back in essays about our experiences for the 2nd edition of the book Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners. It is not necessary to sign up separately to work with Mike; all participants must sign up directly with Tina Hargaden through this link.


Portland, Oregon – Contact me if you have a full day classroom space available any day between Monday February 12th and Friday February 16th. “My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes. Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Registration available if we find an available classroom.


Portland, Oregon – Contact me if you have an after school classroom space available any day between Monday February 12th and Friday February 16th. “Maravilla latinoamericana” is a three hour workshop suitable for after school hours. This is Mike’s professional response to counter ugly stereotypes about Latinos that have dominated the media. Inspire your students with real life stories of average people in Latin American doing extraordinary things to make our world a better place. Each biographical sketch contains an easy reading, a higher level reading, and a link to a short video. Mike demonstrates how to movie talk the non-fiction short videos to make them comprehensible. He also suggests several easy assessments to hold students acountable. Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Maravilla latinoamericana. Registration available if we find an available classroom.


Raleigh, North Carolina – Saturday February 24. Mike Peto will be hosting ANNABELLE ALLEN at East Wake Academy in Zebulon. Spend a Saturday with La Maestra Loca, re-energizing yourself and your classroom! Non-targeted comprehensible input can be done in so many different ways. Save countless hours of planning time so that you have the energy to teach when your students are in your room! In this day long presentation and workshop, La Maestra Loca will model her favorite non-targeted comprehensible input strategies, while simultaneously modeling her foolproof classroom management system. Participants will of course walk away with countless Brain Break ideas that they’ll have experienced first hand. This will be a one of a kind professional development and you’re sure to be highly entertained, and re-energized during the notoriously challenging month of February! Early registration discount is now open.


Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro, Vermont – Saturday, March 17. “My Perfect Year Demo Day”. Mike Peto will demonstrate fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up his perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities,  book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes. Participants who sign up by March 9th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Click here to reserve a spot; discount for early sign up.


Yokosuka, Japan – April 14 & 15 (Saturday & Sunday). A two day workshop combining the “My Perfect Year Demo Day” with “Maravilla latinoamericana”. Mike Peto will demonstrate fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up his perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes. “Maravilla latinoamericana” is Mike’s professional response to counter ugly stereotypes about Latinos that have dominated the media. Inspire your students with real life stories of average people in Latin American doing extraordinary things to make our world a better place. Each biographical sketch contains an easy reading, a higher level reading, and a link to a short video. Mike demonstrates how to movie talk the non-fiction short videos to make them comprehensible. He also suggests several easy assessments to hold students accountable for the reading. Participants in the Japan workshop receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year & a copy of Maravilla latinoamericana. Early discounted registration currently open.


Virginia – June. Two day private training.


Summer 2018

Advanced Spanish with Express Fluency Summer Conference – August. Expect a truly unique advanced Spanish class! Using a variety of CI-inspired theater games, participants will recreate parts of the novel Todas las hadas del reino by Laura Gallego. Intermediate level students will be comfortable in this class as the theater games scaffold the language required for them to understand the novel. Advanced students will discover a fascinatingly complex world of fantasy inspired by one of the most popular contemporary writers in Spain. Spanish teachers will be introduced to a great YA author and will experience a variety of interactive book talk activities that they can use to engage students with their own classroom library. All participants will receive a copy of the novel to extend their learning well beyond the three day course.

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Modifying the blog

A few people have written in to tell me that certain parts of my blog are not functioning or missing. Thank you! The explanation is that I am currently working to make it easier to browse. By next week all of the links and pages will be fully restored, and it will be easier to find specific content when you want it. Thank you for your patience!!

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Alina´s Inspiring Approach to Accountability with FVR

Alina Filipescu is a teacher who radiates love for her students. She is also a teacher who commands enormous respect from them and, as a result, she is an absolute master at classroom management. I asked Alina to allow me to publish this preview of her coming blog post which will thoroughly describe her entire FVR program. I will link to it once she publishes it. In the meantime, enjoy her spot-on advice for inspiring students to read more in their second language.

Here is how Alina describes her accountability system:

This is what ACCOUNTABILITY looks like when implementing a reading program (SSR/FVR).

1. Students turn in a book they finished reading w/ a sticky note.

2. The most important item on the note is rating the book (1-5 stars) just like the critics do. Students may also write an optional comment about the book.
3. Teacher keeps track of how many books each students reads. I have a list with student names and names of books. I highlight a square on the list when a student finishes a book.
4. Remove sticky notes and either put them on the inside cover of a book for the next student to read (this is what I did last year, all year long) OR post the sticky notes by class, on a wall (this is what I’ve implemented this year).

I have already posted some of these ideas (along w/ Bryce Hedstrom), but this is my complete list on accountability. I NEVER have students do summaries or other dreaded assignments after reading a book. I also share some of their reviews before we do silent reading on Fridays, in order to inspire and motivate others. I’ve noticed that even more students are writing short comments since I’ve been doing this. It’s a simple, yet very efficient way to promote the books.

Click here to read Mónica Romero´s original post that inspired Alina.

Alina Filipescu is a Spanish teacher in Southern California and a regular presenter at NTPRS. She is a contributor to the Ignite Language blog.

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How EASY it is to self-publish your CI novel

Let me walk you through the process step by step

I just self-published my fourth book, a translation of my popular novel Superhamburgers into Brazilian Portuguese (I also have translations of Superhamburgers in French & Spanish as well as a collection of essays about teaching Spanish to heritage learners). A fifth book, a graphic novel prequel to Superhamburgers, is on the way and will be published in December. Once you have written a book, formatting it, getting it printed professionally and offering it on Amazon is a pretty simple process. As I was completing this last book I took a lot of screen shots so that I could walk you through the process.

This post is not about the creative process of writing a CI novel– I will write about that in a later post. The post is simply about the technical side of getting your work published and then offering it to the world without having to market, organize inventory, shipping, returns or any of that business stuff. Being a teacher is enough hassle. Once you have written a text, all you need is a word processing program.

I print my books through a service called Createspace, which is a subsidiary of and therefore makes it very easy to offer published work online. You can set up a free account by following that link– in fact, you can do this whole process for free. I will also show you how to offer your book on Kindle, which is a good deal for both you and your readers.

Step One: Correct the Page Size

Starting from the document in Word: Change the size of the page to 9 x 6 to reflect the size of the page in your published book. Once you do this, then you will not have to worry too much about printing errors because the document on your computer will really mirror exactly what will be printed. A word document normally has a default size of a normal letter-sized piece of paper. In order to change the page size you must first click on “Page Layout”, then “Size” and finally click on the last option, “More Paper Sizes”. A new box will pop up where you can manually change the size of the paper to Width: 6 (inches) and Height: 9 (inches).

Step Two: Get an ISBN Number & create a Copyright page
Logged into the Createspace page you need to fill in the first two pages so that you can get an ISBN number, which you will then copy onto one of the first pages on your book. This is what it looked like for my latest book:

Once you have the ISBN number, you need to create the Copyright page. I usually leave the first printed page blank and then place the Copyright page on the second page of the book. Book Design Made Simple has a good explanation of exactly what you want to include on a Copyright page.

Step Three: Thank those who have reviewed your manuscript

Do not forget this part! I have a native speaker read and comment on everything that I write. Even if you are a native speaker, have someone from a different region read your manuscript. It is easy to find collaborators; just ask on one of the CI Facebook groups. It is always appreciated to send that person free copies of your book once published.

Step Four: Upload the interior manuscript

I recommend that you save your word doc as a .PDF before uploading it. Images and fonts sometimes jump around when it is uploaded as a .docx but in any case you will have the opportunity to preview your files.

Here is an screen shot of what the manuscript preview looks like. As you can see, it automatically flagged one of my images that was slightly placed outside of one of the margins. The previewer is pretty cool; you can flip through your book and get a sense of what it will really look like.

Step Five: A few things to consider adding to your manuscript

As you can see, I like to embed cartoons into my books to help scaffold the reading. Since I do not know the students who will be reading the book, I also like to provide footnotes on any vocabulary or expressions that are not high-frequency. I also like to include a word cloud of the words that appear in each chapter that teachers can use either as an aid in class discussions or to scaffold student retells.

I am also particular about the glossary. Most students are not going to use the glossary (especially if you have footnotes), but those that do use it want to quickly find the word and return to the story. For that reason I go out of my way to add EVERY word, conjugated verbs and obvious cognates included, and also include idiomatic phrases that may be hard for some students to put together. The glossary is without doubt the most annoying part of the book to put together, but if done well it will help readers enjoy the book. I always assume that a student glancing back at the glossary is a struggling reader, so I try to include as much support as possible.

Step Six: Create a cover

The front and back cover is one simple image that wraps around:

You can create the image using a program as simple as Windows Paint (which is what I do). The exact size of the binding (and therefore the image) depends upon the number of pages. Createspace has instructions so that you create the perfect sized cover.

Step Seven: Order a proof copy and approve for printing

I strongly recommend that you order a physical print copy before placing your book on Amazon. It will cost around $2.15. The Amazon page for your book will normally be created within hours of your approval.

Step Eight: Tell us that you have published a book!

I will happily advertise your book on CI-Reading, a blog for indie authors of CI novels. Just contact me with your book information. This is a free service.

I also recommend that you get a blog and post information about your book. It is most effective to post the first two chapters of your novel so that readers can preview your writing style. Here are the first two chapters of my latest novel, in Portuguese.

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Small change, big impact

I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who adopt this tiny tweak.

When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the board rather than projecting the writing from a computer. I know… it is so much more convenient to be able to press save and keep the word document for next class.

However, this is the point in class in which students have received so much input that you can confidently elicit unplanned responses from them. When you are standing in front, you make eye contact. You write one word to start the summary and you scan the class for the next word from a student ready to play the game. W & D is not simply a summarizing activity; a good W & D bounces from student voice to student voice with the teacher merely guiding the written output so that it is correct. A truly great W & D flows in a direction that the teacher may not have anticipated, yet does summarize the conversation that took place in class that day.

From the back or side with the lights dimmed to better see the projected image, a teacher squinting at the keyboard (and eager to sum up the class before the bell rings) will naturally take control of the flow of the text. Students become passive observers of the summary. There is nothing wrong with letting students just read the summary as you create it, but I think it is generally more effective to encourage their natural creativity and playfulness with the language. Not all students are going to speak up, and that is okay. However, I suspect that this more playful approach to W & D helps not only those students who are eager to speak in class, but also scaffolds the writing process for those quiet students who have not begun to produce effortless fluency writes.

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La familia de Federico Rico – Super EASY read

Click on picture to go to the author´s website
Have you noticed how awesomely easy to read are the novels by Craig Klein Dexemple? I have not read this one yet, but in my mind this author is trustworthy to promote without having read. In addition, this book has over 200 illustrations and the author’s students report that it is among the easiest to read novels in his classroom library. Hey, level 3 students LOVE easy to read novels. Follow this link to take a closer look at the novel on Craig´s website.

Just to be clear: book recommendations on my site are not compensated. These are books that I think will help language teachers, that is it.

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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My Perfect Year live demo — Nov 4 — Zebulon, North Carolina with Mike Peto & Brett Chonko

Saturday, November 4th from 9am to 5pm. $25, reservation required.

Mike Peto
Brett Chonko
Step into our classroom for a day and we will demo our favorite no-fuss CI activities that make for a perfect year. Whether you are new to CI or an experienced practitioner, you are bound to find something new in this whirlwind “year packed into one day” extravaganza. For NC educators: we are hoping to offer 1 CEU for attendance… we will keep you posted!

Please bring your own brown bag lunch.

There are many AirBnB rentals available in the Raleigh area: join our Facebook group to connect with other educators who plan to attend.

8:30 – 9:00 Doors open, coffee and bagels available
9:00 – 9:20 No-stress daily rituals to start class & Easy CI activities to start the year
9:20 – 9:40 student interviews on day 1
9:40 – 10:00 Use of wall space
10:00 – 10:40 The beauty of One Word Images
10:40 – 10:50 short break
10:50 – 11:20 Write & Discuss: the underappreciated foundation of fast acquisition

Recycle those class-created texts into cartoons & easy readings for FVR

11:20 – 12:00 Moving from static images to narrative vignettes
12:30 – 1:00 My comprehensible approach to authentic music in the classroom
1:00 – 2:00 Light targeting with my personal library of stories
2:00 – 2:10 short break
2:10 – 2:40 Essential movie talk skills
2:40 – 3:20 Telenovelas for low and advanced classes
3:20 – 4:30 Book talks & other elements of a strong reading program

– Why independent reading is my preferred approach to reading in class
– How I read whole class novels without killing the experience

4:30 – 4:45 My no frills approach to assessment
4:45 – 5:00 A typical day, a typical week, a typical month
Schedule may vary due to needs of participants

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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.


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New books for FRENCH & SPANISH teachers!

Scroll down to the bottom for a bargain

For French teachers: I am thrilled that a summer of collaboration with a trio of smart French teachers has finally given birth to the newest CI-friendly novel in French for our lower-level students. Superhamburgers is a novel that appeals to adolescents because it was written with one of my level 1 classes in 2013. The plot revolves around two students who are lab partners in an AP Chemistry class. Rodney had no idea that the consequences of his actions would reach so far. It started as a bad joke — never washing his hands at the restaurant where he worked after school so that he would have a quiet place to study for his AP classes. By the end of the next day, however, as he was being hunted by a ruthless drug lord, Rodney realized that it had all spiraled horribly out of control. If only he had washed his hands!

The Spanish edition has received rave reviews from teachers and students alike:

Embedded within the novel is a set of 23 illustrations. Followers of my blog have seen my growing obsession with comprehensible cartoons in the classroom. In the novel I have inserted 5 full page comics to help students visualize the developing plot of the novel. At the end of each chapter there is a 2 page word cloud designed as a crutch to help you and your students discuss the chapter in a structured, comprehensible manner. We also have a new Facebook group dedicated to sharing resources for teaching this novel. If you would like to read the first two chapters before committing, you can download them by clicking on this link.

For Spanish teachers: I have published a 2nd edition of Superburguesas with all of the new illustrations (in Spanish, of course) and even the word clouds. This is a gorgeous update and I think it really does help guide students comprehend the novel. Or rather, the illustrations often confirm that they are comprehending the novel.

For both Spanish and French teachers: The prequel to Superburgers, titled Normal hamburgers, is an entire graphic novel designed to be read in level 1, and enjoyed in levels 2, 3, and 4! The graphic novel is already well on its way and will be available this coming December.

The two new editions of Superhamburgers on Amazon, French and Spanish, are currently available for $6.49. I am no longer publishing the first edition, so any book offered at another price is a first edition used copy without the new illustrations and word clouds. However if you avoid Amazon altogether and order groups of five directly through this website you can get a 15% discount. Just click on the “Shop” link at the top of the page. This is a great option for anyone considering buying a full class set!

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Struggling to hold students accountable for reading?

Addressing the toxic culture of non-reading

I have a well-developed classroom library and I emphasize student-selected reading in my classes at all levels, from level 1 through to the heritage learner classes that I teach. I consider myself to be a “krashenista who lives in the real world“, that is, an educator who takes Krashen’s hypothesis’ seriously but also recognizes the role of the classroom teacher to massage those insights about second language acquisition so that they work in our reality. To be clear, Krashen isn’t a brainstem floating in another dimension; his ideas have already been extensively class-tested and you can follow this link to read a summary of the research-based suggestions for setting up a classroom reading program. What I am concerned with here, however, is what I think most teachers seeking to build an independent reading program are struggling with: how to transition students from a punitive compliance approach to reading that is common in many classrooms so that they embrace a pleasure-based approach advocated by Krashen in our classrooms?

A student who has learned to play the game in all of their other classes has been trained to approach reading as a task to undermine. Teachers respond by finding ways to ensure reading compliance such as quizzes, reading guides, writing assignments and random (humiliating) in-class comprehension questions. Our students are immersed in a punitive reading culture that rouses their counterwill; is it any wonder that they huddle before class discussing the reading with the one kid who actually did it, that they send text messages to students in other sections about “surprise quizzes”, that they copy answers to reading guides in the hallways during morning break and that they despise the astute teachers who manage to “play the game well”? Undermining the teacher’s attempts to enforce reading compliance is the game and, I think, one of the reasons adolescents report that they hate reading. The so-called good students may read due to an external motivator (grades, desire to impress an adult), but research on external motivators indicates that external motivators decrease internal motivation. That is to say, reading compliance assignments are unlikely to motivate compliant or non-compliant students to become lifelong readers.

By setting up a pleasure reading program, we krashenistas are attempting to step outside of this game, coaxing students to abandon what is truly a non-reading culture and nudging them to discover a home-run book… the kind of reading experience that is so satisfying that it opens a new world. How naive we must seem to those calculating students who have spent their lives perfecting the game! How silly we must seem! How easy to fool!

When I start my pleasure reading program, I very briefly describe in L1 why we are spending 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class on independent reading (I often use the quotes from the back of my good reading book marks, a free download). I have several browsing strategies to get multiple books in their hands in the first few days before they commit to any book. Students are allowed to change books until they find one that “is not too bad”, they are always allowed to abandon a book, and they are never quizzed on their independent reading. I demand a silent room while we read, and then I sit with them and read. Afterwards we sometimes spend a brief moment talking about our books in L1 in small groups (this is both a documented way to add pleasure to the reading process as well as a browsing strategy) and I often do comprehensible L2 book talks describing a favorite scene from books in the classroom library (another browsing strategy).

Krashen states that studies have shown that very few students are merely staring into space with glazed eyes during reading period, yet for us classroom teachers it is a subject of heated discussion. Are they really reading? What can we do to make sure? That kid certainly is not reading. The handful who I know are not reading define the entire class in my mind, and it frustrates me. My heritage learners in particular, the ones who gain most from easy pleasure reading, seem to be among the best at faking it unless they think there is going to be real accountability. I need to perfect this bridge between our current reality of the game and that wonderful future when each student has discovered a home-run book. My role as a teacher is to connect students with a home-run book so that they become readers. My instincts and my training as a teacher, however, constantly intrude and push me towards reading compliance measures. I am aware of what is happening in my classroom… I am actually pretty good at the game. But winning the game is counter-productive; I need to short-circuit the logic of the game.

This is what I would like to propose here: (1) teaching a student to read is different from (2) leading a student to love reading. (1) Developing reading skills is different from (2) developing a love of reading. Educators must be very clear that (1) does not lead to (2). The first can be done through brute force such as assigning reading journals, essays, comprehension quizzes, “minimally intrusive” post-reading paragraphs, graphic organizers, rubrics designed to encourage students to reflect on either the reading or the act of reading, assigned discussions in pairs after reading or assigned book talks. The second, however, can only be accomplished through the path of pleasure. If a post-reading discussion is pleasurable, if writing a reaction to a book is pleasurable (for instance, doing so voluntarily on or reading about other students reactions to the reading is pleasurable, then the activity will contribute to the greater goal of developing love of reading. If it is not pleasurable, then it plays into the dynamic of the game.

How, then, can we successfully confront the toxic culture of non-reading which is expressed by the game? I have an idea, and this once again comes straight from a conference talk given by Krashen. At NTPRS 2015 Dr. K spoke about the process of becoming a reader and he observed that, before pleasure reading, almost all lifelong readers were read to. I am not talking about being forced to read aloud in class or having the teacher read a boring text aloud. I am talking about an essential kindergarten reading activity that is fun and should not have been dropped neither in middle school nor even in high school. That is to say, readers tend to have had parents or older siblings who read pleasure reading texts to them. Being read to is not the only step to transform a person into a reader (they will then need access to highly-compelling reading), but most readers report that they were once read to. I suspect that most of our students have not had enough experience being read to in pleasurable, read-aloud settings. Here is the key idea in this entire essay: I wonder what would happen if teachers rewired their brains so that, when we witness a non-compliant student during silent reading period, we reacted differently. Rather than reach for a reading compliance strategy, what if we were to think to ourselves, “I have got to do more read-alouds”? I am suggesting that not only would more pleasurable read-alouds move the student further down the road towards becoming a reader, but we would also short-circuit the logic of the game. In the short run I will sit next to that student, engage in a conversation about reading, try to find a better book for him, try to make a connection during a read-aloud, but what I will not do is allow my frustration to perpetuate the dynamic of the game. That is a win/win for all of my students, especially the ones that are actually finding good books and are beginning to think that maybe this class is different…

Jen Schongalla told me about one of her nephews who described the FVR program in his elementary school. He said to her:

All the free reading books were labeled with colored stickers according to the level. I would pick a book, open it at my desk and just sit and think. I’d look around to see what level everyone was on, pick books that were 1-2 levels higher and just sit there. I never read during free reading until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. Then I was hooked and read the whole series. Around 5th grade they evaluated our reading level and I was told I was reading at a college level.

What strikes me about his recollection is what we can infer to be in the background: a patient teacher who was working hard to connect a non-compliant kid with his home run book.

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Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)

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How to add 15 new beginner level texts to your classroom library EVERY WEEK

“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017

These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:

Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories.

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Watching other teachers in class

Bring more CI voices into your classroom

I love watching other teachers teach. An absolutely-no-prep end-of-the-year activity that I enjoy is finding videos of other teachers and spending ten minutes watching and commenting on it with my students. I was telling my students, “es como el Matrix donde podemos entrar en (mimic opening a door) otra realidad“. One corrected me, saying, “actually Mr Peto it is more like Inception where 20 seconds of their time stretches into 10 minutes in our world”. I love how everyone gets a little punchy in the last month of school.

It all started one day with a video of Eric Herman doing a movie talk of a Volkswagen commercial. Unfortunately I cannot find the clip, but we got hung up on a portion in which Eric is asking one of his students if she has pets and she says no, so he starts listing the pets that she might want but does not have. I found this hilarious and, since only a few of my students agreed, I decided to pull one up to act out the ludicrous scene with dramatic relish.

Thus was born a segment that I call, “¡¿Qué está pasando en otras clases?!“.

Click on photo to see Alina’s video
At the beginning of the year my students are assigned seats which are placed within taped boxes, but by the end of the year kids are grabbing pillows and sprawling out on the floor. As long as they are paying attention, they own the classroom. So I thought it would be fun to watch one of Alina Filipescu’s videos that highlight her amazing classroom management skills. It took us seven minutes to watch about 30 seconds of video as I described the various gestos that her students were making, all in unison. The interesting thing for me was that I do not normally ask students to do gestures… okay, I never ask for gestures. Bringing Alina in through video taught my class the entonces gesture. Nice!

Click on photo to see the video of Jason
A few days later I pulled up a clip of Jason Fritze teaching younger kids using TPR. This was fun because not only did my students have to adjust to hearing a different voice, but they had to react quickly to the video. I told my students, “es un baile moderno…un baile supermoderno… y el coreógrafo es el señor Fritze… tenemos que hacerlo perfectamente“. Half of my late-May-fried-teaching-brain was freed up as I sat in the back with my students and simply obeyed his instructions, raising my hand whenever I observed students off-track. One of my students sitting at the computer rewound the video (at times cruelly to the beginning) so that we could perfect our performance.

Click on the photo to visit Pablo’s Youtube channel

A few days later we watched a video made by Pablo Pankun Román on his youtube channel “Dreaming Spanish”. This is a great end of the year activity because it moves students in the direction of finding their own comprehensible input. It is very much scaffolded by a native speaker, but it was almost entirely comprehensible to my students.

Cameron Taylor
I have also released several videos of myself doing story listening lessons. Last January on Tea with BVP Bill Van Patten suggested that hearing good comprehensible input on video can be as effective as live interaction. Cynthia Hitz wrote a blog post detailing how she uses these videos for substitute lesson plans (which in fact was the reason that I made several of those videos). Ironically, while I was absent, I had lunch with Cameron Taylor in Tokyo, one of the other teachers that Cynthia highlights in her blog post. It is a very small CI world! I definitely recommend that you check out both Cynthia´s blog as well as Cameron´s youtube channel and his blog where he explores teaching Spanish and also his experiences acquiring Japanese.

Here are links to several videos of me telling stories that I have on my vimeo site. There are also more, including longer ones when I am teaching with a class. Click on any of the images and you will be brought to the video:

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Conexiones by Bryce Hedstrom

A collection of short, non-fiction entries that excite a different kind of reader

People sometimes ask me how I keep students from getting bored of my schtick creating class stories day after day. The key, of course, is that I am not doing the same thing every day. On some days we create class stories together, some days I tell a fable, some days we discuss the plot of short video clips or a Spanish language tv show that we are watching in class, and some days we discuss our own personal stories through student interviews. But there is one kind of story that feels so different: non-fiction.

The readings in Bryce´s book excite a different kind of reader: the child who spends hours curled up with a magazine like Ranger Rick, Popular Science or National Geographic. This book rounds out a classroom library by focusing on interesting non-fiction that is comprehensible to novice learners of Spanish. Whether offered as an independent reading selection, read in small groups or part of a whole-class reading activity, these readings are a necessary complement to the fiction that is central to my classes.

I like to do a few of these readings as a whole class activity to hook students on the pleasure of reading non-fiction. Not all students enjoy reading about the animals of Latin America (for example), and that is okay. Then I leave the book out for FVR. Those who long for “something real” will be attracted like magnets to Bryce´s book and, in turn, will be much more attentive during the fiction stories spun in class because they recognize that one part of the class was designed just for them.

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Story Listening Lesson with my Spanish 1 students

A copy of the story, video of my lesson and power point full of student drawn pictures for class review the next day

In early May I told this story to my Spanish 1 students. It is inspired by a classic fable but I added an unexpected twist at the end. Here is a copy of the story as I wrote it before telling it to my students. I think it is good practice to encourage students to read the story later.

I do not choose stories based upon language that I want to introduce in class. For story listening I never hunt for a story that has the imperfect tense or a certain group of target words. I do occasionally teach classic TPRS stories with target structures that I want to nail down, but that is a small part of my teaching routine. Instead I normally search for stories that I think will interest students and then rewrite the story so that it will be comprehensible. There are definitely some words that my students did not know, such as chismosa, pueblo, injusto and entierro. I wrote them on the board as they came up in the story and perhaps circled them very lightly just so that students understood in this one context, this one time. The words menor and mayor also came up, and have shown up in other stories, but I felt like I needed to give a little extra attention to those words.

Finally at the end of the video I tell students watching the video at home to write a 150 word version of this story in Spanish. That was simply for the group of students that had been pulled out of my class for a motivational speaker. That is not how I normally follow up a Story Listening activity. Normally I will have them quickly write about the story in English so that I can glance through the papers and verify their understanding. Today I gave them a paper with only one sentence from the story and had them illustrate that one sentence. At the end of the week we will revisit this story with a power point full of their illustrations (which I will insert here when it is done). I will retell the story using their pictures, and perhaps I will have them also retell in pairs but I know that what makes them speak fluently is not the speaking practice… it is the multiple comprehensible exposures to hearing and reading the fable.

Added the next day:

The next day we did a quick retell and I then gave students five minutes to write as quickly as possible everything they could remember. Here are three random writing samples. Since many of the grades that I record are simply based on completion it is meaningless to say whether these students are “A” or “C” students. What I can say is that they are rarely absent, so this is what happens when they come to class:

Click here to watch the video of the story listening part of the lesson (which is about 15 minutes long):

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This looks like such fun, I cannot wait to add it to my FVR library!

Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in Carlos’ life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand.

Carlos invites you to come along this adventure into La clase de confesiones….todos tienen una confesión (even the teacher!) Word count 3,000, most of which are cognates in addition to vocabulary totally appropriate for Spanish level 1. Glossary included!

The author gets the most royalties if you purchase it directly through createspace.

However, you can purchase through Amazon.

Download Free Teacher’s Manual on– La clase de confesiones.

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there is a special doorway into a child’s world

“The best way I have found of getting to a place where everyone knows and approves of each other in a classroom, to form a community in an authentic sense, is by sharing images created by the students to use as a basis for stories. That’s the glue.” – Ben Slavic

Ben & Tina´s book, A Natural Approach to Stories , has just become available today on Teacher´s Discovery. I have so much affection for this approach to stories that it is hard for me to single out a few bullet points as to why you should use this book as your guide to CI. The approach described in this book is substantial enough to entirely replace my previous (already effective) CI curriculum. After a year of Ben´s approach my students are performing better, and happier, than ever before. And it is not just my experience: I have recently learned that two teachers in my CI meet-up group (which focuses on Ben´s approach) have earned the Teacher of the Year award at their respective schools. Take a look at Cameron Taylor´s blog to read about his experiences with the power of stories rooted in One Word Images and Invisibles.

As I leave my district in California behind this June, I will be sure to leave a hard copy of A Natural Approach to Stories, placing it in a discreet place in the hopes that the teacher who replaces me will discover it.

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The growing FVR cartoon library

At this point we have over 20 submissions in our collaborative, downloadable FVR cartoon library.

A few of the cartoons have been fully illustrated in color and are ready to be laminated or added to a cartoon binder for easy reading by students during their free reading part of the class.

Some of the cartoons have been illustrated with pencil so that it will not be costly to print out the cartoons. If you have your students illustrate either colored or pencil versions and they turn out well, please send us the best example so that we can offer both colored and black & white versions.

Most of the cartoons also have a non-illustrated version. These are great for substitute plans or a homework assignment where you want to lightly assess student´s reading comprehension. Instead of printing off a class set of one cartoon, please consider printing off 5 or 10 different cartoons and having students illustrate a random cartoon. Send in the best.

I like to emphasize that the act of illustrating is not an efficient use of class time; assign these as substitute plans or occasional homework to supplement the CI students are hearing in class. The real value of the cartoon library will be once we have a full reading library to cater to the needs of the lowest level readers in class so that your FVR program will be strong and effective.

If you would like to join our collaborative effort please read the instructions and submit a class-created cartoon. All languages are welcome.

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Hacking Quizlet to make good reading activities

A reading activity that would impress administrators

On Monday we were chatting about our weekend and a story surged forth about a girl who went to Disneyland with a classmate. Today I had a pair of artists work to create a poster while the rest of the class and I reworked the story into a fantasy-zombie-Disney story. By the end of the class we had a decent story up on Textivate (if you have a Textivate subscription you can search our story in the “Public Resources” section using the keyword Mirabella.

After school I brought in one of my colleagues and we filmed ourselves reading the story with the poster between us. My plan is to play the video retell tomorrow and then follow up with a game of Quizlet Live using a quizlet set that I created from the story.

To make this into an effective reading activity (rather than a vocabulary list) I took the story and split each sentence in half, so that one side logically leads to the next. I uploaded it as a Quizlet vocabulary list so that is looks like this:

Tomorrow when I log into Quizlet Live the students will play on their cell phones, matching the first part of the sentence with the second half. It is a quick 10 minute small group activity that administrators love to see because students are working together in small groups, they are laughing and involved in the activity and it appears to be very student-centered. Of course, I know that real conversations with my students are a much more efficient use of class time. Nonetheless this is a decent 10 minute activity that draws students in, impresses administrators, gives me a short break and then allows me to spend the rest of my class constructing stories… which I think is the best use of class time.

Bonus: I can pull this sequence out again in a couple of weeks on a day when I need a bailout move. This is wonderful review and easily buys me 15 minutes to reconstruct my lesson plans.

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Recipe for a fantastic year

Pre-planned targets, emergent targets, Light-circling, heavy-circling and not targeting at all: they all have their place in a level 1 classroom

A few years ago, when all of my stories had targets, we created a fun class story called Frankie el mentiroso. You can see the original lesson here. Looking at that post helps me see how far I have come in these past years. This is a story that I created with a Spanish 3 class. This year, about seven months into Spanish 1, my students are just sitting back and enjoying hearing this story.

Back in those days I targeted obsessively, mistakenly believing that students acquire what I target and mostly do not acquire what I do not target. I must have been confused if I had read Stephen Krashen´s suggestion that most of what we acquire is almost certainly non-targeted input. I was too close to the grammar syllabus that I was in the process of rejecting to be able to recognize that a vocabulary syllabus is just as absurd.

My experiences this year working mostly with emergent targets has flipped everything on its head. While before I would carefully lay a foundation of essential structures, this year working mostly with One Word Images (OWIs) throughout the first semester has ironically led to a stronger foundation due to incredible student interest generated by the process. Here is my recipe for an awesome year:

(1) I started the year with student interviews and quickly getting students familiar with the third person of the Super 7 verbs. I purposely chose interview questions that featured these highest of high-frequency verbs. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually used this power point with the interview questions in both Spanish (large letters) and English (small letters). During August kids would just turn around and read the question I asked… until they did not need to. It happened naturally while we were busy paying attention to their answers.

(2) Early in the semester I taught my students the process of creating OWIs. We made them twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These might take 20 minutes each time; the rest of the time was used on interviews (one student could easily take another 20 minutes) and other CI activities. OWIs are definitely the WOW! activity that I incorporated into my teaching this year, and I am not the only one enamored with this powerful technique. Take a look at one of Cameron Taylor´s blog posts about using OWIs with his daughter. Important: we ended each class with a short Write & Discuss activity to summarize what happened in class that day and then added that writing to an FVR binder.

(3) Very quickly kids wanted to start expanding their OWIs into stories, which we did on Tuesdays and Fridays. Both OWIs and the narrative vignettes that emerged on the following day depended heavily on the Super 7 verbs, but there was also a lot of emergent structures. When, for example, students wanted a fountain from which blue chocolate flows, I needed to slowly circle the new information (una fuente de que salía chocolate azul… notice how I carefully simplified the language). Here you can see a story they made in early September (a month into the school year) about that fountain; if this had been a pre-planned class story the story would have been a hopeless failure. Look at how complicated it is! But this OWI turned class story was THEIR story unlike any TPRS story I have ever worked with before. It is fascinating how powerful the OWI technique is.

(4) By mid-October I was occasionally sprinkling in a pre-planned target structure. Mostly this was by “asking” one of the stories that I have used before. In the past I prefaced these targeted lessons with a lot of PQA; this year I would just work with the main text in one single class period. If the lesson required more than one period then I put it off and waited until later, when we could finish the targeted lesson in one period. Here is an example of a “one class” targeted story that we did to focus on the word ningún. The first power point took most of one whole class. We then read the additional story “Panqueques” about two weeks later, and that was also completed in one class period.

(5) But I was also telling completely non-targeted stories via the Story Listening technique, as you can see in this lesson.

(6) We also started watching El Internado in January using an emergent approach. No way I am going to pre-teach all of those structures!! Instead I look at each scene and ask myself, “What do the characters want?” That question is enough to simplify the tv show to make it comprehensible to my students… no need to doddle translating all of that dialogue!!

(7) A tremendous amount of reading is essential, starting in the first semester with class-created texts being added to the FVR binders every day. By September I was doing short, simple book talks (mostly on Wednesdays) about the books in my FVR library that they would eventually start reading independently. By January we started FVR for the first 5-10 minutes of class… students who do not feel confident reading from the TPRS books pick up the FVR binders that we created during first semester and reread texts that we created together.

Watch the video below and look at how easily students are interacting with a story that I originally created for a level three class. As I watch this, I can recognize that there is no such thing as “hard structures”. After telling them the story in a story listening style presentation, students read a copy of the story on their own. Afterwards I quickly read the story aloud, clarifying any remaining doubts. By slowly exposing them to (a) a lot of non-targeted/emergent-targeted input as well as (b) a well-curated foundation of targeted high frequency input, my students are all superstars.

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The FREE online FVR Cartoon library

In my opinion, this has lots of potential.

Lots of people continue to ask me about the free downloadable FVR start-up kit that I created back in 2014. I posted two short novels that my classes had co-written, formatted so that anyone could print and add them to their own class library. The project did not attract the collaboration that I had hoped – who has time to co-write entire novels with their classes?! I temporarily closed the website until I could create an easier collaborative project from which busy teachers could realistically benefit. Today I would like to invite you to imagine again the possibilities of this wonderful, much reduced but much more realistic project.

(A) Why FVR?

Instead of novels we are focused on two page cartoon versions of class-created stories. If you are imagining stories with your classes, come take advantage of the creativity of other classrooms around the world and stock up your FVR library!

I predict that this will be great for new teachers lacking resources. This will be great for experienced teachers who are looking for comprehensible, independent reading for their level 1 classes. This will be great for teachers of lesser taught languages who do not have many choices to stock their FVR library. When this really takes off the online FVR library will be a wormhole into classrooms that do not yet appreciate the effectiveness of storytelling methods.

Currently there are already about a dozen cartoons available. To get access to our growing collection, I merely ask that you ask an original story with your classes, write it down with them and then simplify it further to fit onto one of our blank cartoon templates that we provide. You do not even have to illustrate it (although inside the cartoon index we provide both non-illustrated and illustrated versions—the non-illustrated versions are great for substitute plans).

See the details at:


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hello all you beautiful teachers

is-it-okay-to-shareSo many generous teachers post free materials online that it is not always clear what is free to share, or what has been lifted, photocopied and is an illegal copy. Let us be clear on one thing: sharing legally shareable resources is good practice. For years whenever I published a lesson online I thought to myself, “this is free, I don´t need to claim ownership over a free resource”. Recently, however, several people have contacted me regarding unattributed resources that they thought may have been originally mine (they were not). After reading the many comments on Martina Bex´s recent post about her unending struggle against copyright violators it became clear to me that there are many teachers who really do not want to violate copyright.

ccFor those of us who share: let´s do a very small thing to help clarify what is shareable and what is not. Let´s use the system of Creative Commons to indicate that our works are shareable, can be copied, redistributed, and altered. Or not, but let us be super clear by placing an appropriate creative commons license on the bottom of any resource we share. It is easy (and free). All you have to do is go to the Creative Commons website and decide what level of sharing is appropriate for your work. On the bottom of the page include a notice to indicate the copyright status.

Here is an example for this blog post:

“hello all you beautiful teachers” by Mike Peto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. You are free to adapt and share for non-commercial purposes as long as you keep this notice. See copyright details here:

For a downloadable resource I plan on scaling down the font to size 10 and placing it in a text box at the bottom of the page.

The following step, of course, is to start asking about authorship whenever we receive an unattributed resource. This is not to make people feel bad about passing things on, but to create a professional culture in which piracy does not pass unnoticed through our professional groups.

We are already a generous group; if you are releasing free material then let´s go a tiny step further to protect our colleagues who truly need our help.

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Reality check: is non-targeted story listening an efficient use of class time?

We have very little time with our students. Over the course of a four year program we typically have anywhere from 450 to 600 class hours, while research suggests that it takes thousands of hours to acquire a second language. Students may expect to leave our programs “fluent”, but most language teachers understand that we are truly aiming to develop enough language so that students can continue the process on their own.

As opposed to past years, this year I have followed a mostly non-targeted approach. Before taking this step my main concern was whether a non-targeted approach would provide enough repetitions of core, high-frequency language so that students would thoroughly acquire the language rather than just remain in a perpetually confused state of “I-kind-of-sort-of-understand”. I knew that, given enough exposure to interesting & comprehensible language, they would acquire it eventually. My question: is there enough time in a school day so that eventually comes quick enough? Or is a tightly targeted curriculum better suited for the reality of preparing students to fly on their own someday.

First of all a caveat: I did target the super seven verbs and then the sweet sixteen verbs during the first few hours of instruction. In the past I would have methodically worked on the third person present tense forms, followed by second person and first person forms so that, by late October, I would be introducing past tense forms while casually using other tenses as needed (subjunctive, future, conditional, perfect tenses). This year the targeting was limited to the 3rd person of the sweet 16 verbs, which was complete by early September.

I have written before about how TPRS is a humane, inclusive method which allows students to blossom at their own natural pace. The non-targeted lessons based on One Word Images and Ben Slavic´s approach to story-asking (which he calls the Invisibles) also move as slowly as my best targeted lessons. Nobody is getting left behind; everything is as comprehensible as before. I think the interest level is higher because the personalization of the Invisibles story is deeply embedded into the DNA of the activity, whereas my targeted stories are about as personalized as a Mad Lib activity. Kind-of personalized, but the kids see right through it.

My biggest surprise with the non-targeted approach is the realization that I have more opportunities to differentiate for fast processors while not losing the slower processors. In the past I would spend time trying to find student jobs and other ways of occupying the busy minds of my fast processing students. Part of their classroom experience was learning to remain focused and to not blurt out before the rest of the students had the opportunity to process the language. This year I am reaching the high-fliers in class like never before with variations of Beniko Mason´s story listening technique.

Below are the quick writes produced by a few outstanding Spanish 1 non-heritage learners. These are just beautiful and demonstrate a richness of language that I would not expect, and certainly would not have targeted, for students in their fifth month of language classes. Some of the words I expect will drop out of their active vocabulary (maceta, semilla). But some of the expressions are not actually coming from this specific story. It is pretty darn cool. It is no longer a question of whether I have time to differentiate for fast processors; I have found non-targeted story listening to be a surprisingly efficient addition to my repertoire.

Here is a link to a video of the story listening activity that I told. I think I was very low-energy that day… which is a good sign that this technique works!






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Book review: Sonríe

sonrie This was a great purchase. It has been displayed among my new FVR books for the last week and has already developed a fan base among my Spanish 3 students, including one reluctant reader who I worried I would never reach. Glancing through their quick writes about their independent reading I was surprised to see that he has been flying through the book, and loves it. Several students were familiar with the original English version from their middle school reading experiences, but this seems to be a plus in that it aids in making the book comprehensible. Nonetheless, for level three students, this book already is comprehensible enough and even students who were unfamiliar with the English version have expressed interest. Take a look at the example page below to get a sense of whether this might be a good purchase for your classroom FVR library:

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What does it look like to teach El Internado in a non-targeted manner with a Spanish 1 class?

Teachers often ask me about a list of target structures that I need my students to master before we can start El Internado. What do they need to know?

The legendary Susan Gross used to say that she could teach Pobre Ana on day 1, and there was no mention of target structures, just good TPRS skills that make each phrase comprehensible as students encounter them. I approach El Internado in the same way. I do start second semester when students have a firm grasp of the sweet 16 verbs and a few words that are high-frequency in El Internado, but for the most part we are just processing simple Spanish as we encounter it.

I have made videos of myself teaching but this post is going to be different. Every day, as I teach a little of El Internado, I am going to take a photo of the writing on the board at the end of the class and post it below. Some days (like yesterday) I spend much of the class on El Internado, but most days we only spend 20 minutes talking about one single scene. The writing will show you what students really have to understand in order to enjoy the show. These paragraphs are written quickly together at the end of a lot of oral conversation about a scene. Come back over the next few weeks and read new photos that I will post below. As you read each entry, ask yourself if you could lead your level 1 students through such a discussion. I bet that you could.

January 10, 2017
January 10, 2017
January 11, 2017
January 11, 2017
January 12, 2017
January 12, 2017
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Good Reading FVR Bookmarks

A Free Voluntary Reading program requires a lot of love…

…and one of the requirements that I have been slacking on lately is providing the continual encouragement that students need. I am not referring to banal attaboys so that students reluctantly soldier on, in fact I am not talking about extrinsic rewards at all; I am talking about developing among them a deeper ownership of the reading program. Beniko Mason has written that learners need to understand the why of the reading program if it is to truly take hold. Paul Nation suggests that language learners spend almost a quarter of their language learning time on extensive reading, using texts specifically designed to be comprehensible to their level. Now that the second bookmark-front-and-backsemester is starting (and I am pushing forward with FVR with my level one students), I need to get a little more consistent with selling the reading program to my students.

To that end I have developed a set of 35 Good Reading FVR bookmarks that I want to share with you. On one side is an attractive design; some are meant to be colored in, many refer directly to the act of reading, some reference a cool cultural product. On the other side is a good reading quote. While students may read the quote, they really are there for me to highlight at the beginning or end of the independent reading session. The reading quotes have been harvested from the writings of Stephen Krashen, Jim Trelease, Beniko Mason, Paul Nation, Frank Smith, Kató Lomb, Haruki Murakami, Bryce Hedstrom, Beverly Cleary, Norbert Schmitt, Thomas Aquinas, Paul Sweeney, Alan Maley, and Groucho Marx.

I print out the first seven pages on heavy, light-colored card stock. Flip them over and print out pages eight to fourteen (the quotes) on the reverse side. Using a paper cutter I cut 1/2 inch margins on all sides except for the top, leaving a space for students to write their names that will pop out of the top of the book. I will encourage students to decorate the book marks (on their own time) and, once they are ready, I laminate their book mark using the self-adhesive laminating sheets that I also use to protect the covers of popular paperbacks in my library. Find the free download by following this link to my TpT store.

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Story Listening, almost

Good story listening is reaching “the soul of the reading”

peto-cangrejosWe are reading the classic short story Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes by García Márquez in my heritage learners class. I have been feeling guilty that I have not planned anything lately for the higher ability learners in class (about 30% of the students in a very differentiated class) so I pulled out some challenging but truly rewarding reading. Higher ability kids in the past have really warmed to this tale, so I thought that I would buckle up and fly through this beautiful story the best I could. Looking through old lesson plans I found a myriad of pre and post-reading activities that we could work through as a class so that, hopefully, every student would find some success. You can find a lot of those materials here, in a post that I published two years ago.

The funny thing is… wow those first two days felt horrible. I could feel the joy withering in my artless hands as together we read the first, basic embedded reading. My intention was to get straight to the good part but instead I had a humorless story skeleton that focused merely on plot.

At night I have been reading about the story listening technique developed by Beniko Mason, who questions whether “reading activities” are more efficient or more effective at developing language than simply providing more interesting/comprehensible reading and listening. That is when it occurred to me that my reading activities, meant to scaffold the reading of a specific version of the story, are putting the brakes on enjoying the soul of the text. My ah-ha moment: maybe difficult texts should always be presented orally first so that the storyteller can closely tune the telling of the tale to the audience.

quoteI use reading activities to make comprehensible a text that otherwise would be incomprehensible. Why am I seeking to push incomprehensible texts down the throats of my students? Because the reading is beautiful to my mind, because it occupies a central place in the target language culture, because I want my students to gasp at the mind-blowing creativity of a writer like GGM. All of these objectives can be reached through an oral retelling of the tale, so I dropped all of my canned reading activities mid-week and decided to meet my students where they were through story listening.

Once I looked at the story with new eyes… not to prepare students to read the quote2original text but rather to enjoy the most marvelous moments of the tale, it changed everything. I realized that I can tell this tale to my non-heritage learners. And I did, in one period. As I was reviewing the video of my teaching I heard for the first time the voice of one of my students who sits next to the camera. He was muttering, midway through the story listening session, “This is getting serious… I am so invested in this story!” Although it sounds planted, it was not. There were 37 juniors crammed into that room but, by their silent attention, one could be mistaken to believe it was just me and that one kid. Here is a link to that video. The first few minutes are boring as I set up the class but the story picks up after a few minutes.

I did stray in one important way from the ethos of story listening: I had my students illustrate the story as I told it, and when I was finished I had them go back and write in text to their cartoon versions. I just could not trust that they would listen to me for 36 minutes straight without daydreaming or outright snoozing. I am honestly not sure if this lack of faith reflects my own uncertainty in my skills as a storyteller, recognition that school has taught them to play the accountability game, or simply if the activity, the illustrating, helps them maintain the thread of a complicated story in their own minds. Maybe a bit of all three.

Here are some of the cartoon panels that they passed in (all non-heritage speakers):

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A lovely book: El perro enamorado de las estrellas

This book has gone viral in my FVR library!

coverI need to share this adorable book because it makes such a great connection with so many people. It is a Japanese manga translated into Spanish, but it tells a tale that touches across cultures with the help of a cute, faithful dog. It is a story of loss; in the first half of the book a man loses everything and spends his last year on earth living out of his car with his beloved dog. Believe me: my kids love it.

During second semester I am going to use this book as an occasional kindergarten reading for my level 1 kids. Each vignette is short and can become a recurring, quick reading activity. Projecting an image of the book with a doc cam, the illustrations will be easy to make comprehensible. Here is an example page that you can read full size if you click on it (click twice to get the largest most readable resolution). Japanese manga is read from right to left, so start at the top right of the right page and read across and down:

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Wafflina, an Invisibles Spanish 1 lesson

wafflina(Click here if you just want to watch the video of my lesson)

Wafflina is a character that one of my students created when we had a few minutes the day before Thanksgiving break. She is a pink waffle that lives in IHOP and laughs at all of the pancakes that get eaten there. She does not realize that humans eat waffles too.

Before the class period I was flipping through my pile of characters and I found this picture. One of my students had written a description of her Invisibles character on the back of the paper. I started the class with the picture projected against the board and I supplied a few details that came from my student´s imagination. There is something about a student-generated illustration that immediately draws other students into the drama of the class. Teaching with Ben Slavic´s Invisibles method, we use student drawn characters to co-create little vignettes in class. When I have a pre-planned TPRS story I am usually exhausted at the end of a school day, but after a day of Invisibles I feel invigorated and ready to go live my life at the end of the school day. As you will see in the video, I am not working terribly hard at moving the story forward. The kids do most of the work… I just keep it comprehensible and in Spanish.

Prior to the video we spent 5 minutes on FVR (these level 1 students are just starting independent reading). At the end of the video, after writing up our story on the board, I had students turn their backs towards the board and I asked them comprehension questions. However in the action of turning their chairs around about a half dozen students placed their chairs within sight of the camera, so I had to delete that last section. You will hear me frequently consulting with the time keeper, a student who moves our stories along so that they are completed within one class period. In this class we agreed to spend 5 minutes per section. I have a poster with the four sections of the story on my back wall. In the first section we determine Who? Where? and With whom?, in the second section we flesh out the problem that the characters face, in the third section there is an attempt to solve the problem but that attempt fails, and in the last 5 minutes of the story there is a successful resolution to the story.

The next day we used a variety of activities to reprocess the story. Jillane Baros, a gifted teacher who posts often on the facebook CI-Lift Off page, recently shared a quick list of CI activities to process a reading, which you can download here. I use Textivate a lot… often rather than writing on the board I will write directly into Textivate so that it saves our class stories for the future. Every 2-3 weeks my students create a quick write on their own using phrases that they have acquired from these class stories, but creating their own narratives. Through these quick writes I observe the natural development of their second language. Check out the CI-Liftoff facebook page or the videos posted on youtube to see other teachers adapting this method to their own classroom.


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the cool generation

cholasIt happens without warning, catching me by surprise. We might be watching a video in which a Bolivian chola comes on screen, or perhaps a very dark-skinned person, an overweight woman wearing a hijab or a homosexual couple dancing in the background of a music video. I hear a snarky murmur, mean-spirited chuckling… nothing that I can precisely distinguish but I know what this is about.

You cannot let this fester. This has to be addressed immediately and unequivocally, but winning hearts and minds can be trickier than just shutting down the rude comments. I have developed the perfect tactic to address this situation. This is not an overall strategy (every teacher should carefully plan how to honor diversity in their classrooms), but rather a tactic to remind students of their better selves. I like this tactic because it rapidly turns the tables and invites them to join us in the 21st century.

When I sense such an undercurrent, I stop whatever we are doing and quickly say, “I thought yours is the cool generation, the generation that refuses to carry hate in their hearts, to hate people for what they wear, how they were born, for being different”. I pause and frequently somebody in class will say, “we are”. They really are the cool generation. “I admire that about your generation… all of that bullshit is over with your decision to end it here and now”. Sometimes I make eye contact as I say, “right?”, but often I am addressing the whole class when I say that. More students will respond affirmatively. “We´re together on this one, right?”, and the whole class responds affirmatively. Most often I can find a reason to fist bump the offending students within ten or so minutes, and they are fully back into our class community.

I do not know why this works so well, but every time I refer to them as the cool generation they immediately take it on as their identity. I am hoping that in the future when my students hear hate speech, when they see white supremacists in public spaces, when they observe powerful figures making harsh generalizations about minority groups, they will think to themselves, “that is not a cool generation, those are not my values”.

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Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners

Last June I gathered a group of educators to reflect on their classes for heritage learners of Spanish. Today I am releasing to the world the first fruits of our collaboration. We have produced a fine book of essays that I think will be very useful for teachers new to teaching heritage speakers. Below I have copied the introduction that describes each essay:

This collection of personal essays addresses an urgent problem in language education: how to teach heritage learners of Spanish.

cover-face-2 Perhaps it is the Californian in me, but I believe that reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession. Every year I am contacted by teachers who, willingly or unwillingly, are thrust into a new teaching challenge for which they are deeply unprepared. I was unprepared when I started teaching heritage learners. My impression is that there are departments who are farming out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. I have read about departments that urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. My hope is to collaborate and gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that my colleagues will confidently approach their courses with joy.

These essays were written by practicing classroom teachers. We recognize that the teaching situation that each educator faces is unique. Far from describing an ideal approach to teaching heritage learners, many of these essays depart from the very imperfect reality that teachers actually confront. The most dysfunctional element of the program at my school happens before classes begin with the placement decisions that determine whether students are even placed in the heritage learners’ track. The opening essay of this collection describes the evolution of my approach to student placement. I was tempted to bury this essay because it describes one of my most embarrassing failures as a teacher; I hope that others learn from my mistakes.

In the second essay Carol Gaab sets the tone for the remainder of the book by reminding us that compelling, highly comprehensible reading materials provide the best paths to literacy. I am always surprised when teachers downplay the role of easy reading in their classes. It is through easy reading that non-readers become readers. Dragging students through difficult, classic works of literature or less-than-compelling thematic units may expose students to unknown vocabulary, but they utterly fail in leading students to love reading. Our courses must nurture our students to become lifelong readers so that they continue to develop their literacy long after the course has ended.

This idea of creating a compelling experience is the subject of Sean Lawler´s essay. Using a television program as an anchor text, Sean describes how he made use of the interest generated by the program to provide reading experiences appropriate to multiple levels. The reality of at least some of our students is that the school culture alienates them long before they reach our classes. Those of us who are not obligated to follow a particular textbook should look to popular culture in order to attract otherwise disaffected students.

I have come to the conclusion that easy pleasure reading should be the major element of any program designed for heritage learners. In the fourth essay of the collection I provide a description of my easy reading program, “An Easy Approach to Teaching Highly Differentiated Classes”. The essay is followed by a list of the most student-appreciated titles that are currently included in my classroom library.
Adrienne Brandenburg describes how she developed her metaphorical sea legs while teaching classes for heritage learners. The key realization for Adrienne was recognizing that very few of us were trained to teach these courses. Our instincts as second language teachers often lead us to adopt approaches that are incompatible with the task at hand. In her essay “Adopting a Language Arts Approach” Adrienne advocates that we work much closer with colleagues in the English department. One of the things that appeals to me about Adrienne’s essay is the underlying recognition that, even among well-trained CI teachers, the instincts to return to discredited legacy methods of language teaching resurface quickly when under duress. Spelling lists, direct grammar instruction, vocabulary lists: these have all largely disappeared from English language arts classes in favor of planning highly-contextualized teaching moments.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and, the subject of the fifth essay, to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish.

Broadening their language community does not mean that I want to fundamentally change the way that they speak Spanish (i.e. trying to develop an Argentine accent among Mexican-American students), but rather make them more aware and accepting of the beautiful diversity within the Spanish language. I have grown to believe that this is not just a casual flourish to adorn the “real” curriculum; some students come to class with such a strong desire to exclude what does not sound right to them that it becomes a barrier to developing their own language. My Mexican-American students whose exposure to Spanish is limited to their family and friends will often resist expressions common even in Mexican popular culture if they are not familiar with them. The teaching solution to the persistent student reaction that “we do not say it like that” is simply to articulate the broadening of language community as a fundamental goal of the course.

Wendy Gómez Campos writes about structuring her program with the end goal being that students successfully pass the AP Spanish language exam. Being successful in an AP course can be enormously empowering for heritage speakers whose families have a limited experience with college. AP Spanish can form the cornerstone to a concerted, school-wide push to attract more heritage speakers to sign up for more highly-academic college track courses.

The essay introducing Krashen´s concept of language shyness is really a short presentation to push educators to read Krashen´s original paper, which is available for free on his website. In my opinion, language shyness is the key concept that all educators of heritage speakers need to understand.

Katherine Thornburgh´s essay on goal setting describes the confusion and struggle that teachers new to heritage learners’ classes may experience. This is an essay about process rather than outcomes; it is an important read for educators who demand so much of themselves that they feel like constant failures in heritage speakers classes. While Katherine´s essay is about her plans to include students in the goal-setting process, just as valuable is the way that she uncovers the reflective process behind effective teaching that I had hoped to nurture when I gathered this community of educator-writers. It is through the writing process, Krashen notes, that our thinking is developed. I hope that more teachers write more about their difficult classes as a path towards imaging a new reality.

In the final essay, Beyond the Classroom, Barbara A. Davis reflects on the unexpected challenges of educating heritage learners in a culture that does not always appreciate the task at hand. An observant teacher of heritage learners quickly gets an insight into how our institutions and cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers.

It is my hope that this first edition is quickly followed by an expanded second edition. There are so many facets to this uniquely difficult class that we have not covered and, honestly, I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. I welcome original essays as well as thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners. The profits from sales of this collection of essays are reinvested into the classroom libraries of the contributors.

Mike Peto
San Diego,
October 2016

For the next two weeks there will be a discount of $2 if you order the book directly from the publisher: Use the code YEGVMSNR to get the discount.

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I chat about FVR with Dr Louisa Walker

teachersthatteachDr. Louisa Walker has an interesting 10 minute podcast designed to introduce CI concepts within your commute to work. A long-time “Krashenista” who teaches Spanish in Chula Vista, California, Louisa caught me at a Carol Gaab workshop and we stepped outside to talk briefly about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). Listen to it on her blog or follow her on iTunes.

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Where will the CI community be in 100 years?

Will we be playing a 22nd century version of online games with our students, or will we have learned to have deeper, more humane face-to-face conversations with students?

So much about my teaching has changed since I started writing this blog. When I first started TPRS I felt like my biggest weakness was a lack of resources, above all a lack of interesting stories. The blog was a place to share those lessons with other new teachers. Nowadays the Invisibles have led me to tap deeply into my students´ imaginations and I barely ever use pre-made stories. Almost everything (in beginner as well as advanced levels) is generated from what the students indicate that they want to say, so a huge portion of my blog is simply a relic of how I used to teach. It is not a bad way of teaching… it is just not where I am currently at. I have been trying to write a post about this, but it is so big that every time I get started I see that I need to grow just a little more to really describe how my teaching is changing.

Teaching in a high-poverty district, I understand the desire to impose some structure. Especially with students who appear to be dangerously lacking structure in other parts of their lives (whether it be due to poverty or absent parenting or whatever), but I am trying to move away from the impression that language class is any work at all. For me it started with FVR and Krashen pointing out that any sense of accountability will ruin the experience of pleasure reading. It took a while to fully assimilate that insight into my real classroom practices, but now I am finally at the point that my kids come to class and curl up with a novel before any talking begins and I think that is just so cool. I finally got the heritage speaker girl who always used to skip my last period class to come and I don´t want her to regret it. I want kids to bring that perspective to every part of my class, just curl up and enjoy the experience.

I have not even been pushing the self-assessments based on the interpersonal skills rubric. I abandoned it because I hated going through them and having to figure out which students are “playing the game”, which students are being honest, which students “deserve” to earn a low grade. To my thinking there are less coercive ways that take longer, because they require me to deepen my relationship with some kid who has adopted a deeply hostile posture towards schooling. I just want to suspend it all, all of the grading and monitoring, even the self-assessments, and take one of the comfy chairs myself and enjoy chatting in Spanish with them.

Teachers new to TPRS/CI often ask about testing (not to be confused with the formative assessments that we do every 20 seconds while interacting with students). “What is in your grade book?”, they ask me. Ironically if you ask the people who are conducting CI workshops around the country, many will privately admit that they do not really spend time on testing. At all. Replace all of your testing time with more comprehensible input and you will be amazed at the gains your students will achieve. That is not just the result of more time being exposed to comprehensible input; that is also the result of a more playful, less judgmental classroom.

I am not alone here either… last summer on a CI teacher Facebook group someone posed the question about what you would like to change in your class, if you could. Overwhelmingly all sorts of teachers, from those that meticulously backward plan their lessons to people like me who let it emerge without planning, nearly everyone wanted to be rid of grading. Languages are acquired naturally in a low-stress environment; most of the assessment in my class is invisible to students, it is collected non-stop and used at the moment it is collected to shape my teaching in that moment. The district-required midterm exam for my classes is a class story that we create during the exam, and nobody even gets a paper until we have verified that everyone is ready. For day to day grades, I am feeling good with the One Word Images (OWIs) and stories created based on OWIs, followed by a simple exit quiz that is so easy that it is kind of a joke. Just enough to keep their attention in class, but also a kind of wink that tells them that I really don´t care about that grading crap.

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Episode 5 reading guide for Gran Hotel

dona-teresaThe episode 5 Gran Hotel readings by Kara and Mike are now available. This easy reading makes the series transparently comprehensible for learners. See the preview material available on Teachers Pay Teachers for the essay and first page of the reading packet… you will see how easy reading will help your students understand and enjoy a deeply compelling Spanish television show. Click here to see the page with all of my Gran Hotel materials.

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New book posted on CI-Reading

Subscribe to CI-Reading to get an email each time I discover a new CI-appropriate novel published by an indie author that is not represented on the major TPRS publishers websites & build your FVR library!

This is the post published today on CI-READING:

planeta-zombilandia I have not yet bought this book, but it looks good! This is a Spanish version of a book originally written for an elementary ELL classroom. Here is the description of the original book: “A short and easy captivating mystery reader “Planet Zombieland” designed specifically for beginning English readers, ELD, Adult Ed. and Immersion Students. Incorporates the CCSS’s”. One customer review on Amazon states, “this is easily one of the best Spanish learning books I have ever read to my pupils”.

I will update this post when I get a copy! Click here to purchase on Amazon.

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Are there school inappropriate moments in Gran Hotel?

A guide to questionable scenes so that you can keep your job!

julio-y-aliciaI always suggest El Gran Hotel as a suitable alternative to El Internado for teachers who want to make an exciting telenovela a part of their curriculum. In general, Gran Hotel is very school-friendly. The biggest problem is that it is harder to make Gran Hotel comprehensible for language learners, but not impossible if you go slow.

Nonetheless there are some very rare questionable scenes (but not too much questionable language) which I alert viewers to in my episode study guides. Kim M. from Beaufort Academy has alerted me to a wonderful resource that attempts to track all of the questionable scenes: follow this link to check it out and THANK YOU KIM!!!

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Students need to browse

Wrapping my mind around the shift from required reading to desirable reading

Some tweaks are “good to implement if you can”. Other tweaks carry the urgency of “absolutely change how you do this right now”. This may not be maximum urgency, but if you have a pleasure reading program then creating a browsing wall with book covers facing outward will noticeably increase the circulation of your books.

When assigning a required reading to a class the main concern of the teacher will inevitably be to assure that the reading is comprehensible to all students. A pleasure reading program introduces a slightly different dynamic: the teacher becomes concerned with connecting each student to the right book, which is both comprehensible and targeted to the interests of the student. If you scoff at the idea that this is even possible in a world language classroom, you need to check out the amazing diversity of well-written, limited vocabulary fiction books now available for language learners!

I estimate that my classroom library has between 1500-2000 books written for beginning language learners all the way through to YA fiction for heritage learners. Last school year, when all of the books were contained beautifully within a few bookcases, I had a hard time getting students to browse the books. Each shelf was labeled according to the topic of the books, but students rarely explored. Despite the book talks and gentle nudging, I rarely managed to get a student to take the time to pull out books and find their dream book.

This year I created a “Books of the week” wall display from which students choose a book for independent reading in class. I rotate a portion of the books each week so that students eventually see the front covers of my entire library. Rather than merely relying on my own knowledge of each student to connect them with an interesting book I have found a way to discretely suggest new genres to all students. This really hit home when one of my stand-offish heritage learner students recently lunged to claim my Spanish edition of the graphic novel Maus. I would have never guessed that he had an interest in WWII.


On Fridays students place books that are being actively read on a cart so that I am sure to have them available the following week. I still encourage students to browse my bookshelves, but for those students who have not yet learned the pleasure of browsing this is a nice, structured way to introduce them to one of the essential skills of a real reader.

How did I create my little book ledges?

I am lucky that the interior walls of my classroom are made of a material much like a bulletin board. I managed to staple a hand-crafted ledge made of laminated paper sentence strips which you can buy in a teachers supply store. Behind each book is a velcro strip positioned exactly four inches above the ledge, and each book has the opposite side of the velcro strip (again, four inches up). Finally a student in each class has the job of “King/Queen of Books”. Students return the books to that one person who is responsible for placing them on the wall in such a way that they slightly overlap (see the photo below). That way none of the books splay outward, ruining their binding.

If you are just starting a pleasure reading library and are looking for where to find these specialized, limited vocabulary books then check out the following websites: Bryce Hedstrom, TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, One Good Story, CI Reading, TPRS Books, Fluency Fast, Spanish Cuentos

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Why the Sweet 16 posters should be on your wall

Regardless of your teaching situation, these posters will help you focus on the highest frequency building blocks of the Spanish language


The idea of the sweet 16 verbs grew out of Terry Waltz´s super 7 verbs, which provide an anchor for meaningful communication within the first few hours of class. I expanded those verbs to the sweet 16 in order to form an essential curriculum for an entire first year. In practice, this is the common core that my department has agreed on to guide us through an entire four year curriculum. Of course we do not have a sixteen word curriculum, but we agree that structures with these verbs are the ones that are recycled and given priority at every step in the journey. The only other guideline we follow is to simply strive to provide compelling CI, for four years.

If you are part of a non-CI department

It is crucial that your students are noticeably communicative to the teacher next year. A strictly grammar-oriented teacher may have a hard time detecting the communicative abilities of any student, but most teachers nowadays are no longer strictly grammarians. It is my impression that most teachers are deeply impressed by output, even imperfect output… but they use output activities in the mistaken belief that output leads to output. That is why TPRS/CI teachers often brag about the quick writes that their first year students complete: it is the hook that gets non-CI teachers to look at comprehensible input.

You want your students speaking with a naturalness that astounds the teacher next year. I have heard legendary CI teachers claim that truly easy, unforced output only begins to happen in the 4th semester of language instruction, but in my experience it is possible if you have a focused curriculum. No worries if you are in a CI department that understands the long game, but if you are in a pressure cooker then you need to focus on the highest-frequency structures. This is how I imagine it playing out: next year students will be in a paired role-playing activity and the prompt that one reads will be something like “¿Qué vas a hacer durante el fin de semana?” The output-trained students might say something like “playa” while your students who have had a daily experience with the sweet 16 verbs will calmly respond, “No puedo ir a la playa, voy a la casa de mi abuela porque ella está enferma“. These sweet 16 posters play a vital role in assuring that the highest-frequency structures are recycled daily in class so that, by the end of the year, they have been acquired to the point that they simply drop out of the mouths of your students.

The other option is to try to serve both masters and assign vocabulary lists that neither your students nor the students in traditional classes will remember next year. My advice: don´t fill your class with ineffective activities to please your colleagues, but do focus your instruction time on the highest-frequency words that teachers next year will notice have been acquired. You can do this regardless of whether you are reading TPRS novels, following a highly-structured TPRS curriculum like Cuéntame más or Look I can Talk!, or even if you are following a highly-personalized approach like Ben Slavic´s Invisibles. Next year´s teachers may not even notice your students awesome reading and listening abilities, but they will take notice of student´s mastery of the sweet 16 high-frequency verbs.

If you are part of a CI/TPRS department

I am a little concerned with the way CI/TPRS is more and more becoming institutionalized within curriculum documents. Let me describe what I am hearing from the field: lone wolf TPRS teachers tend to be anxious about what their colleagues think or the influence they can exert, but full-fledged CI/TPRS departments often express anxiety about keeping everyone on track and developing pacing guides. The irony is that departments with particularly “strong” leadership are recreating the onerous conditions of traditional departments, substituting vocabulary lists for lists of required structures and even finding the need to place grammar acquisition on a timeline so that the level 3 classes can read particular books at a particular time.

This approach can work given that structures are limited and recycled frequently, given that the content is highly-compelling and given that the teachers all have the amazing ability to truly own any story, script or set of structures that they are forced to use. The barns are not burning. Yet I do marvel at the resilience of the urge to control the classroom, to control the students, to impose a uniform experience with complete disregard for the diversity of interests that exist in any classroom. Let´s call that the Kanye West approach to CI/TPRS: “I am going to let you talk, but first I want to use today´s target structures at least 70 times each”. Who has the hand counter?

There are dissenting voices. Bryce Hedstrom may or may not appreciate that I characterize him as a rebel, but his popular persona especial interview activity is a wonderful example of emergent language targets rather than backward planned targets. There is no doubt in my mind that the activity is an extremely efficient source of comprehensible input precisely because the students are at the center, not a teacher or district agenda. The most exciting thing currently happening in my classroom world is the revelation through a persona especial interview that one of my freshman Spanish 1 students is going to get a tattoo the moment she turns 18. It turns out that her mother has a whole arm covered in tattoos, but won´t let her daughter get even one. If you try telling that as a story to your class it may fall flat or be greeted with a mild “meh”, but in my classroom this is unbelievably compelling because it is outrageously real. Not planned, not on any vocabulary list. PQA with a target structure will never be as personalized as a real conversation. Our students may never become bitter with us like Taylor Swift when Kanye stole the show, but that does not mean we are creating the best conditions for language acquisition when we constantly steal the show with our target structures.

Ben Slavic is pushing the idea of emergent targets further than anyone I know. Not incidentally, he is not a fan of either the Super Seven or Sweet Sixteen verb lists. He told me such as he stood in my classroom looking up at the posters! I suspect that for Ben even those 16 verbs are too much of an agenda, a classroom that cares more about teacher expectations than fostering the innate creativity of children. I truly admire his approach; Ben respects the imagination of children and wants their ideas to guide the curriculum. Personally, however, I find the sweet 16 posters liberating. They enable young minds to imagine possibilities in the target language. I am not simply talking about glancing up and finding a word for a quick write; this is not a word wall. As these most essential verbs are deeply acquired then their thoughts, their ideas, their quirky, unique imaginations flow in the target language. These Sweet 16 posters are useful whether you teach within the context of a strict pre-programmed curriculum and seek a little freedom, or you teach in a highly idiosyncratic, personalized context and need an anchor to provide a little structure. I am not claiming to have created the set of posters that saved Western Civilization. This is banking on a balanced approach that I suspect has always been a part of the practice of the truly great TPRS teachers.

An essay on how to use these posters

I wrote a four page essay with concrete examples of how to use these posters each day in class. A one page version is packaged with the posters, but you can read the full essay for free by clicking on this link.

The contest

This is the paragraph that everyone will read. You can buy your own set of posters by following this link. They are beautifully designed. My entire department is replacing our hand-drawn posters with these beauties. But wait! I am also giving away free sets to three lucky winners. All you have to do is leave your name in the comments below— your email address will be recorded by wordpress but don´t leave it in the comments (unless you want spambots to collect it). In one week, on Saturday September 10th (Sorry, the contest is now closed), I will announce the names of the lucky winners. If you do not win on the 10th, there will also be three sets of posters given away at the Comprehensible Midwest Conference in Milwaukee, WI on September 24. These are all courtesy of Teacher´s Discovery, which is expanding their selection of TPRS and CI materials to reach out to teachers who have not heard of these effective techniques.

The contest is now closed and the winners have been contacted. Congratulations to Carin Misseldine and Jenny Rogers, both in Arkansas, and Kari Curtis in Ohio!

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The semester-long research essay

Assigning a huge research paper is not a frumpy, out of date teaching practice. It helps kids learn to think. Here is how I did it with minimum disruption to class:

image in public domain:
image in public domain:

I teach at an IB school. Our language B scores are phenomenal; of all subjects our students get their best IB scores on the Spanish assessments. On the other hand, their scores on the 4000 word research paper that they write independently are spectacularly poor. Kids do not write big research papers these days. I decided to shake that up.

If you are considering assigning some sort of large paper, researched and written in English, on some aspect of Latin America, take a look at my documents below.

Characteristics that made this project successful:

(1) I spent ONE class on this, when we went to the library in February and I showed students how to use the EBSCO academic database. Occasionally I would spend 5 minutes going over expectations, but this was not a significant part of class time. It was a barely perceptible use of class time.

(2) There was a weekly assignment which I graded based on completion. In my grade book I had a category weighted at 12%. Every week I added either 100% or 0%. The final essay is worth very little; it is the process that is valuable.

(3) Students are completely free to choose their topic, as long as it can be researched on the academic database in EBSCO (a database of scholarly and popular articles that my school subscribes to; you might have to tweak this for your school). Many kids do not understand that at first, so work hard to encourage them to find something that interests them. Themes that my students chose after preliminary research included the history of cuy in Peru, religious expression in Puerto Rico, civil war in Guatemala, homosexuality in pre-Colombian societies, women´s rights in El Salvador, folk art associated with Day of the Dead, drug trafficking and its impact on campesinos in Colombia, environmentalism in Costa Rica, Mapuche resistance to Spanish and Chilean cultures and the oil industry in Ecuador. I never would have guessed that students would choose such topics, but with enough structured preliminary research they rose to the challenge and I saw a part of their intellectual personalities that I normally do not get to glimpse.

(4) Students will try to shortchange the process thinking that the final product is the reason we do this. Be sure to grade each step in the process and glance through what they pass in to make sure they are really engaging. Assessing the process will go far to prevent much plagiarism. Also, a quick expression of interest in their work in February will keep them on track. Finally use a service like

Click here to download the semester project outline that I gave them last year. Next time I will have them find their initial “preliminary research” book over Winter break rather than start in January since many needed a full month to get their hands on a book. I also attached this packet written by the Academic Support Center at American University to provide details on each step.

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An updated look at my classroom

Back in 2013 I published a photo essay about how I use the physical space of my classroom. Three years later a lot is still the same, but a few things have changed. First here is an animated gif panning around my classroom:
my classroom

One of the biggest changes over the past three years is the size of my classroom library. After years of purchases it is finally a functional size to maintain not only an FVR program for beginners but also a full heritage speakers program. I am proud to be able to offer an independent pleasure reading course to heritage speakers. They sit in this little reading nook in the back:
2 reading area I can only fit two independent readers per period, but you will notice that each bungee chair has a lamp so that they can read even when the classroom is dark. Added 8/13/2016: A few years ago Jason Fritze said something about lice that led me to remove all hats and clothing from my props collection (replacing them with pictures of crazy hats that students hold over their heads). I am thankful that another teacher who wishes to remain anonymous has led me to reconsider the pillows that I place on the bungee chairs.

Below is a photo of the book shelf where I communicate with the independent study students (we also eat lunch together once a week). I currently have five students in this unique course. While they can browse the entire library on their own, I like to leave two or three books as suggestions. They read 20-30 pages per day and are allowed to pick a new book if they grow disillusioned with their current selection. That is, after all, what I do as an adult reader… I don´t finish boring books. Outside of view I have a clipboard where I keep track of what they liked, what they finished, and the suggestions that were rejected. I use the lists to help me make good suggestions and to guide future purchases.
3 reading area

Last year with the growth of my classroom library I encountered a new problem; it is too big for students to navigate! It was manageable enough to separate the TPRS readers into two sections (low and high) for the non-heritage speakers, but my heritage learners read anywhere between a first grade reading level all the way up to college level. Despite my book talks I felt like I could do more to get them to explore the library further. Then something serendipitous happened; Kirsten Plante from TPRS Academy wrote on Facebook about a Tokyo juku (cram school) that she visited. It is worth reading about their incredible reading program. In this school students do not blindly choose a book for FVR but rather the teachers use their in-depth knowledge of the student and extensive library to suggest books. While I do cannot exactly do that, I realized that breaking the classroom library into manageable chunks will help students discover their homerun novel that connects them to the reading life. This inspired me to create a wall of books of the week so that students looking for a new FVR book have a more manageable selection to choose from:
4 active library Currently the “active library” only consists of easy TPRS readers to encourage a good first reading experience, but as the year goes on I will rotate different books to appeal to different readers.

I moved my main book shelves back to my desk so that these shelves become a “passive library”. In the photo below you can also see the sets of colored index cards for each class. Students start the year providing a few details about themselves on the cards, but for the most part these cards are empty right now. As we find out more information about them I will pencil in details so that I can remember and seed the information into future classes. Not only do I include biographical information, I also take notes whenever they were a particularly memorable character in a class story. The best part of all is that I can flip through these cards in class and immediately identify which students have been passing “unnoticed”. A blank card is an invitation to find a way to make that student a star. 5 passive library

Your expectations in a deskless classroom can never be too clear if you do not want chairs migrating all over the room. Grant Boulanger warns teachers not to place duct tape on carpets or risk creating a very bad relationship with some people who can make your life miserable: custodians. I think this is solid advice; I spoke to my custodian before doing this and, with his blessing, we all have agreed that he will never clean the dark marks left behind when the tape id removed. He actually likes the order that this has created and often comments that my classroom is one of the cleanest in the building. There is something about an orderly room that discourages mess. In addition, he loves it when my last class stacks up the chairs against the wall. 6 clear expectations

Ben Slavic says that classroom management always comes first. A TPRS class will not be effective until students have internalized the rules. Nonetheless this rigid, “everything in its place” organization will give way to seeming anarchy by second semester when students are literally sprawled out on pillows laying on the floor, draped in comfy chairs or sitting with their friends. That is fine for second semester when they are well-trained to maintain their exclusive attention on class, but for me August is all about establishing authority.

Here is how I fit 36 kids into a classroom designed for 25:
7 fitting 36 kids With the independent study kids, a kid sitting at my computer and another couple hanging out back, it is not uncommon to have 40 people crammed in focused on one lesson. Organization is crucial to quickly eliminate distractions while students learn to focus on the story… especially on those days when I am not being a brilliant story-asker.

It has always bothered me that only one side of the room is facing the sweet sixteen verbs posters that I often point to with my laser pointer. Over the summer Amy Marshall posted on the TPRS/CI/iFLT facebook page about adapting Terry Waltz´s idea of using rolling window shades to fit multiple word walls into a classroom. I found an old projector screen that was no longer being used (the district bought larger screens for every classroom, so this screen was considered “obsolete”). Now I have the sweet sixteen on both sides of the classroom, and pointing at both screens will be a much needed reminder for me to slow down. 8 sweet 16 on both walls

Anabelle Allen inspired me to radically redo my question words posters in the front of the room. Check out her blog La Maestra Loca, it is worth following!9 anabelle allen

A year or two ago Craig Klein Dexemple from Spanish Cuentos gave me permission to trace parts of his “Storytelling Characters Poster” against my wall. This is so wonderful, I use it throughout the year to spice up a story or unblock a students writing block when they sit down to do free writes. In addition to a poster, Craig sells his image as a downloadable PDF so that each student could place a copy in their notebooks. And why not mention it? Craig is also the author of two TPRS novels in my easy classroom library. 10 klein

Below is a photo of the “¿Quién es el señor Peto?” poster that I hang towards the front of the room. 11 about me

In the back there are a few celebrity fans who occasionally make entrances in our stories to rave about how they follow a student on twitter, want them to make more youtube videos, etcetera.
12 celebrity fans

And no, I did not buy my own Billy La Bufanda. That would be like making your own friendship bracelet! 🙂
13 Billy

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Introducing CI Reading

cireading front page

I felt like this was the summer in which more and more TPRS authors published their novels independently and, frankly, I was having a hard time keeping track of it all! So here is my solution: a simple blog to keep track of independently published TPRS novels.

I have pages for several languages and can add more if you independently publish a TPRS novel in Hungarian, for example. The design is simple; click on the language and you will see a set of book covers (no descriptions), click on the book cover and you will be sent straight to the author´s page.

Finally the best part: as new titles are published I will post a blog post. All you have to do is subscribe to the blog and you will be informed whenever a new TPRS novel is published on an independent publishing platform. If you independently publish a novel, just tell me in a comment on the blog. It does not get any easier than this!

BTW, I will be cross-posting on My Generation of Polyglots so if you already subscribe to this blog then you do not have to subscribe to CiReading. On the other hand, if you are a French teacher and do not want to subscribe to this blog, just go to and subscribe there.

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Did you miss out on TPRS training this summer?

We still have a few spaces left in a very small group training (max 20 participants) led by TPRS expert Ben Slavic. Without question Ben is one of the very best teacher trainers out there. What I am most excited about however is that Ben´s approach to TPRS does not rely upon crazy theatrics or an exhausting teacher performance; Ben´s approach is grounded in a deep, calm reserve of love and respect. Ben taught in an urban, high-poverty district; he understands the false bargain we strike with coercive discipline systems and approaches that do not place the student first. Come join us and learn from a man that has led a revolution of love from within the larger revolution that is TPRS!

The registration deadline is August 1st: follow this link for details.

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Cartoon syllabus

toondooThere are two very important parts of my syllabus that are constantly overlooked by students: the attendance policy and the electronic devices policy. I have decided to reformat how I present that information using a pretty cool website called Toondoo. Here is one strip that I created (the entire attendance policy cartoon is three of these and fits nicely on one piece of paper):

attendance 1

It was free to use, although I am now noticing that it advertises only a 15 day free trial. Well, I just needed a few hours on a rainy summer day to play around with the website. I have to say, it was enjoyable figuring out how to put together my own characters.

I made two of them to go over during the second week of classes, after things have settled down a little as far as class changes go and once other teachers are no longer going over their rules. Students will have experienced my classes and, hopefully, the idea that they need to be in class and paying attention will make more sense once they experience how comprehensible input works. Here is the one about the electronics policy:

Here is the one that I made to introduce my controversial (but extremely important) attendance policy. Oh boy did this policy irritate some coaches, teachers and parents who were constantly pulling kids out of my classes without any respect for our class time!

One of the advantages of the site: it was very easy to create characters who can express a variety of emotions. A major disadvantage, however, is that it is difficult to place a female character in the cartoon without presenting tired, sexist images. Most of the female outfits are not school-appropriate. This does not make the website useless for my purposes, but it is a reminder that I am the one who actively controls the messages being conveyed in my classroom.

I briefly flirted with the idea of creating cartoons for some of my class stories, but then realized that my student-created cartoons are infinitely better. On the syllabus it will stay. Here is a link to the website for those of you interested in adding cartoons to your syllabus:

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Ep 2 Gran Hotel student guide, & more soon!

An alternative to El Internado with far fewer questionable scenes

blog post 3I have something special for those of you using El Gran Hotel in class: not only is the episode 2 student guide being released today, but this and future guides benefit from a fruitful collaboration with the amazing Kara Jacobs. Those who have worked with me know that I work s l o w l y. Kara has added focus to the project, pushing the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. I am really excited to finally have the reading resources I need to make watching El Gran Hotel a super-powered language acquisition activity.

This guide is being released with a three page introduction explaining how I make an authentic novela comprehensible to intermediate students. I have reproduced that introduction in its entirety below, where you can see a sample of our work. Also included in the guide is a cultural note about gender in the early 20th century, a link to a Quizlet Live! game, a crossword puzzle and a cartoon activity that could be used as a substitute plan at any point during the show. You can see all currently available guides for El Gran Hotel by following this link.

Copied below is the introduction to the episode 2 guide.


Thank you for purchasing this study guide. This is the first fruit from what I hope to be a lengthy collaboration with the incredible Kara Jacobs. I think you will see that Kara´s guidance has pushed the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. You can, of course, use this guide any way you like. However we have a few suggestions on how to make the most of this highly compelling video series. Take a look at this example of a scene from episode 2:

GH ep 2 example

First you will notice that we have numbered the scenes from 1-19 and provide exact Netflix time stamps for each set of scenes. We recommend that you teach one set of scenes at a time, planning on spending anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes on a single set. Or more, if you act out the scenes. When I teach an episode of El Gran Hotel I usually plan on spending the last 20 minutes of class, three or four times per week, so that we progress through the episode slowly.

Before watching a scene, I chose one of the bold-faced expressions within the reading to target so that my students thoroughly acquire it. In the example above I might choose quiere que le dé. Students do not have to have any prior experience with the subjunctive. In fact, do not use this as an opportunity to lecture about the subjunctive or how to conjugate a verb in the subjunctive. Just write the entire phrase on the board with a translation in English and start using the phrase with your class.

It is best to start with easy questions that can be answered with either a sí or no. The goal of these first few minutes is to get your students to process the target phrase quickly, not to get them to actually produce the phrase. I might pick up an apple that I happen to have on my desk and ask a student, ¿quieres una manzana? Regardless of how the student responds, don´t give her the apple! Now there is tension as I hold this apple that the student either wants or does not want. I hold it just out of reach; while staring at the student I ask, “clase, quiere (Student name) que yo le dé… una manzana?” Say the phrase slowly at first, pointing at the board and pausing before completing the question. A Spanish 1 student could answer that question! Modify your questions by using a variety of question words: ¿Quién quiere que yo le dé (point at the board and pause) una manzana? Increase the speed of your speech as students begin to respond with accuracy and without hesitation. ¿Cuál estudiante quiere que yo le dé trescientos manzanas? ¿Por qué Samantha quiere que yo le dé una manzana muy pequeña?

When you change the verb conjugation, casually write it on the board with an English translation. If I asked, ¿Quiero que tú me des un regalo?, then I would write me des on the board. I would probably even ask (in English) “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” Immediately slow down if students show any hesitation or confusion; return back to the board and start again slowly. You will be done when students respond confidently, accurately and without hesitation without looking at the board. Watch their eyes; you will see hesitation in their eyes if they are not ready.

Mike´s comment: I believe that a 3 second question in English calling attention to the way form influences the meaning of a word is a powerful way to teach grammar. “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” “What does the emos on the end of the verb mean?” “What does aste at the end of the verb mean?” Whether focus on form has any impact on language acquisition is still hotly debated among researchers and denied by some linguists. If you decide to use grammar pop-ups, use them sparingly. Your main goal before viewing the scene is to get your students to process the target structure at the speed of a native speaker, not produce it or analyze it.

You may have noticed that having acquired the bolded target structures are not required to actually read the text provided. You can substitute your own target structure appropriate to your class. Throughout the blog post quote 2series we have written the scene descriptions with high-frequency target structures that are appropriate to what we consider to be level three work. Our experiences, prejudices and biases lead us to emphasize high frequency idioms and a variety of so-called “advanced” verb constructions (such as perfect tenses, subjunctive phrases, future and conditional, si clauses). However the actual text of the scene summary is written in a simpler form to ensure that the text is easy reading for your students. It is supposed to be easy reading; if your students have to struggle to decode the text then you need to spend more time slowly discussing the scene beforehand. After having taught classes centered on novelas for several years, I am convinced that the reading is the motor that leads to truly profound language acquisition in the upper levels. While the video is compelling and grabs students’ attention like no other activity, I firmly believe that it is the repetitive, easy reading (accompanied by similar teacher talk) that cements the structure of the language into their minds.

While watching the scene I like to stop the video mid-scene whenever I can use the target structure to describe what is occurring. I allow a student to sit at my computer (a highly-coveted class job) while I stand next to the screen. I raise my hand and tap the screen whenever I want the student to pause the video. I have found this to be more effective than sitting in the back; students pay close blog post quote 1attention when I am in front and make eye contact. Being in the front also allows me to easily point at parts of the scene that I want to discuss. Sometimes I talk a lot, sometimes I talk very little, but the indisputable rule of watching a telenovela in class is that the teacher is in control of the pace. Students will want to move quickly through scenes, getting the gist by observing gestures and watching scenes with plenty of action. El Gran Hotel is compelling in part because it is visually appealing, but just watching large chunks does not aid language acquisition. The compelling nature of the show is a pretext to talk, talk, and talk about it in class. Highly comprehensible input drives language acquisition; do not fool yourself into thinking that the rapid, educated speech of the actors is highly comprehensible to your students. It is the teacher´s speech, spoken slower and simplified, that provides the CI.

After watching the scene I project the reading against the white screen (I rarely print out these packets). Often I will give a few minutes for students to read on their own before we read it together as a class. Sometimes we read it as a chorus so that no single student is singled out on the first pass through. In my classroom we have an agreed upon gesture, a punch to an open hand, which signifies that a student does not understand something. The moment I hear a smack I go back and clarify the last phrase read. After the choral reading I am free to ask anyone to translate any portion of the text, or ask pointed questions. I leave the text projected against the screen to encourage students to reread during the Q & A period. I might ask ¿Qué le gusta doña Teresa? and then either ask the entire class by saying ¿clase? or picking a specific student, who would respond el título de nobleza. Circling through the question words quickly allows me to effectively exploit the text before moving on to the next scene or activity: ¿Cuántas personas con títulos de nobleza hay en la familia Alarcón? ¿Es Alfredo un hombre común como Diego? ¿Qué tiene Alfredo que a doña Teresa no le gusta? ¿Dónde está doña Teresa? ¿Quién es débil, Diego o Alfredo? Be careful with questions that begin with ¿por qué? as these are the easiest to ask and hardest for students to answer. Instead seek a quick, easy rhythm to your questioning so that students experience a lot of success understanding this novela.

I personally never watch two scenes in a row without pausing for discussion. Even if the post-scene discussion is limited to twenty seconds, skipping straight to the next scene is a slippery slope that will train students to whine in order to always watch multiple scenes! There is always something to say, even if it is just a physical description of the background. If students insist on whining then I pull out a pre-printed set of the cartoon assignment at the end of this packet, which I keep for emergencies and substitute plans. It can be used at any point and takes my students between thirty and forty-five minutes to complete in silence.

Other activities that you can do after watching the scene include writing a summary as a whole class activity; I describe how I do that in the last several paragraphs of this blog post: Occasionally I will ask students to complete a 5 to 10 minute fluency write about a recent part of the show. The best description of how and why to assign fluency writes was written by Judith Dubois on her blog, TPRS Witch:

A few other useful blog posts illustrating how I use these guides include this one:, as well as this one that discusses whether you should use subtitles while watching the scene: and this last one even includes a video of me teaching El Internado (a different Spanish tv program) to one of my Spanish 1 classes:

Finally, the last two resources in this packet can be used as (easy) final assessments, substitute assignments or, in the case of the crossword puzzle, a twist on the running dictation activity that I describe on my blog:

Further resources: The techniques that I have described are not unique to me! If you have not heard of TPRS, or if you dismissed it years ago before it had developed into the powerful method it now is, you should join the thousands of second language instructors who have been formally trained at a TPRS workshop. Look at Blaine Ray´s website for a list of workshops ( or consider attending one of the national week-long conferences during the month of July (NTPRS or iFLT), or even one of the international conferences (google “TPRS conference Agen France” or “TPRS conference Netherlands”).

Thanks for purchasing this study guide,

Kara Jacobs & Mike Peto